Between the running shoes, swim cap, goggles and bike kit, picking and buying the right gear for a triathlon can be overwhelming.
One of the most expensive and confounding accessories of them all is the wetsuit. Not only can it be tricky to determine if you actually need one or not, it's also tough to choose from the array of styles on the market.
Do You Really Need a Wetsuit?
New triathletes and less experienced swimmers can benefit greatly from wearing a wetsuit.
"Wetsuits can correct flaws in your body positioning," says Pete Alfino, a Level II USAT coach and owner of Mile High Multisport in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. "They are designed to put you in the proper position in the water and help you stay on top of the water, which reduces drag."
The materials in triathlon-specific wetsuits are designed to provide warmth, while also balancing flexibility in the arms and legs so you can swim effectively. Wetsuits also offer added buoyancy, which assists in proper technique and makes swimming easier. Since the swim is the first of three legs, this helps conserve energy for the remainder of the race.
USA Triathlon has set forth temperature guidelines to determine if wetsuits are legal at a race. USAT events allow wetsuits to be worn when the water is 78 degrees Fahrenheit or below.
If the water temperature is between 78 and 84 degrees, wetsuits are allowed, but those who wear them are eliminated from the running for prizes and awards. If the temperature exceeds 84 degrees, it's illegal for any participants to sport one.
To help determine if wetsuits will be allowed, most events will list temperatures from past years.
What Type of Wetsuit Should You Buy?
Wetsuit options vary in design and price. Some include full arms and legs, while others are sleeveless or employ shorts.
"Selecting a wetsuit is a personal choice," Alfino says. "Many athletes tell me they don't like the sleeves because it impacts mobility of the shoulders, but wetsuit design has come a long way since I started racing."
If you're competing in a race where the water temperature is fairly warm, having full sleeves is less important. In colder races, however, you'll likely want the full-sleeve variety.
As an added benefit, the full suit offers more buoyancy. In big races, a majority of athletes wear full suits for speed and comfort.